If you’re familiar with brilliant innovations like Shaved Bieber, Facebook ID cards, Google Alarm, the Free Universal Construction Kit, or QR_HOBO_CODES, then you’re familiar with the work of the hacker provocateur collective F.A.T. Lab. The global group take new media technologies and filter them through a prankster mindset, coming up with ways of eradicating Justin Bieber from your browser or building a fake Google Street View car to drive around Germany fooling its inhabitants.
Basically, they’re making the online and offline world a lot more fun, guided by their motto “Release early, often, and with rap music. This is Notorious R&D.” A new exhibition coming up at the Eyebeam Art+Technology Center in New York will celebrate their impact on tech-art and hacking culture in the short five years they’ve been around. The show F.A.T. GOLD: Five Years of Free Art & Technology, curated by Lindsay Howard, is a retrospective of their work and will run from November 5th to the 17th of this year.
As well as showcasing some of their finer moments from 2007 to the present, along with some brand new work, there will be a selection of artists, hackers, engineers, musicians, and graffiti writers in residence at the center participating in panels, hackathons, and collaborative pieces.
You can even drop off some of your own art in the participatory exhibition F.A.T. GOLD? YOUR ART!! on Eyebeam’s Dead Drops, organizer Aram Bartholl’s project which lets people peer-to-peer fileshare offline using USB ports.
Here Are Our 5 Favorite FAT Lab Projects From The Past 5 Years
Graffiti Research Lab
The Graffiti Research Lab augments everyday graffiti with open source technologies and posts documentation and videos of how-tos so you can go out and do it yourself. Some of their famous projects have included laser tag, the EyeWriter (see below), and LED throwies.
In 2003, graffiti writer Tempt1 was left almost completely paralyzed after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. To help their buddy continue to practice what he loved, F.A.T. Lab, openFrameworks, the Graffiti Research Lab, and The Ebeling Group teamed up to create the EyeWriter. Using affordable cameras and open source software, the device tracks the wearer’s eye movements and lets them draw using just their eyes.
Free Universal Construction Kit
As a kid you probably tried to join a piece of LEGO to a K’Nex and ended up just forcing the two together to create some kind of construction toy abomination. It wasn’t your fault, they used closed systems and there wasn’t a 3D printable adaptor that would let you join the different types of toy together. Well, no more. F.A.T. Lab and Sy-Lab teamed up to created the Free Universal Construction Kit, which features 80 adapter bricks for complete interoperability between ten different construction toys. Kids these days, never had it so good.
If you wanted to show solidarity with your revolutionary brothers and sisters in the Occupy movement out on the streets of the world (while they were still out there), but you were too warm and cozy indoors to go join them, then this was the easy option. By embedding a line of code into a index.html file you could let an animated GIF army stroll across the screen when anyone came to your blog or website.
Taking the form of a Firefox add-on, the Google Alarm lets you know—using an air raid siren and a pop up window—every time the company is monitoring your web browsing. If you installed it, its near constant activity was enough to make anyone shudder at the ubiquity with which you were being snooped on. Shocking stuff to many back in 2010 when this came out, and now a begrudgingly accepted fact in 2012.
And, if you want to find out more about the open source software openFrameworks used in a lot of F.A.T. Lab projects, we have a profile video of artist, programmer and one of its creators Zach Lieberman coming out later this month.